This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. This week’s sine die edition looks at what has been accomplished for students at the close of the legislative session last night. Wait, is it Thursday??
New 2021 Legislation To Benefit CT Students
It was a busy last few days of the legislative session, with both the House and Senate passing their final pieces of legislation, in addition to adopting a $46.4 billion state biennial budget right on time. A special session has been called for next Wednesday to finalize legislation on implementation of the budget and recreational marijuana. The following are some of the education highlights within the biennium budget (HB 6689) and legislation which saw passage this session:
Literacy Section 41 of the budget allocates $12.8M per year, from the American Rescue Plan of 2021, for the new Right to Read program, as well as setting aside state allocations to stand up a Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success at the State Department of Education, founded under the Right to Read program. Senate Appropriations Chair Cathy Osten, in her introduction of the budget on the floor yesterday acknowledged Senator Patricia Billie Miller for her work on this effort, calling it, “a very important program.” As part of the coalition advancing this legislation, our affiliate—ERN CT—has made the case that Connecticut is facing a literacy crisis that has reinforced opportunity gaps, and students in our state cannot wait. Early literacy, after all, is the foundation of all learning.
Dyslexia The legislature also passed complementary legislation to Right to Read, a bill focused on dyslexia instruction and training. The bill impacts teacher preparation programs, teacher certification, and elementary student reading proficiency assessments—requiring them to provide training in dyslexia, utilizing research based approaches. It also establishes an office within the State Department of Education to oversee compliance measures and audit procedures that will begin in 2022.
ECS Funding Formula
Included in the budget was a scheduled increase for municipalities, keeping to the formula established in 2017, as well as a hold harmless for districts that were expected to lose funding. Additionally, the budget begins to add additional weights for English Language Learners and students living in concentrated poverty.
Funding for Charter Schools The budget increases funding for charter schools by about $5.5M in 2021-22, and then another $4.3M in 2022-23. This increase will finally raise the foundation of the per pupil grant for public charter schools to match that of traditional public schools. Additionally, it will add needed grade growth seats and begin funding weights for English Learners enrolled in public charter schools. We are disappointed to see that funding for the Danbury Prospect School, already state board approved, has not made the budget this session but we are hopeful that it will be included when legislators reconvene.
Open Choice The budget increases funding for the state's Open Choice Program by about $1.1M in 2021-22 and an additional $2.3M in 2022-23. This increase will cover a pilot of the program expanded to the Danbury and Norwalk regions, increasing options for students by allowing them to attend schools in the participating region in which they reside.
Removal of Vaccine Exemptions
The first bill we were watching this year that was signed into law by the Governor, H.B. 6423, finally eliminates nonmedical/religious exemptions to school vaccination requirements. The bill applies to individuals attending public and private schools, including higher education institutions and child care centers. The bill does "grandfather in" individuals in kindergarten and up who had secured religious exemptions prior to the bill's passage. Classroom safety is a precondition of learning and a matter of civil rights. All families deserve to know that their children are in safe and healthy classrooms.
Affordable Higher Education Debt-free community college got funded in the state budget at $14M for 2021-22 and $15M in 2022-23. This is an opportunity for young people to pursue high-quality, affordable education, and hopefully stay here in Connecticut once they graduate. In addition, the budget funds the unfunded liability to Connecticut State Colleges and Universities.
HUSKY Program for Undocumented Children
A bill extending HUSKY, Connecticut's Medicaid program, to children under the age of eight—regardless of immigration status—passed yesterday.
Racism as a Public Health Crisis
Folded into Senate Bill 1, this legislation acknowledges the deleterious effects of racism on public health, and requires data collection on race and ethnicity in state agencies, boards, and commissions. It establishes a commission on racial equity in public health to look at the impact of racism on various state programs and provide recommendations. Notably, the bill specifies indicators for tracking the reduction in racial disparities across the state, including in the area of education–such as kindergarten readiness, third grade reading proficiency, school-based discipline rates, high school graduation rates, and more.
The legislature has been able to make significant gains on behalf of Connecticut students during an unprecedented session. To the Leadership in both chambers, members of the Education Committee, the Committee on Higher Ed, the Appropriations Committee, the House, and the Senate: thank you!